2.4 The Impacts of Counter Terror Measures on Financial, Political and Humanitarian Sides In Relation To Islamic Charities Operating In Conflict Zones
The counterterrorism measures implemented by different countries and international organization have had major effects on the financial, political and humanitarian aspects of Islamic charities operating in conflict zones. The fact that there are millions of people affected by conflicts in many parts of the world, especially in the Muslim world is a sufficient reason for Islamic charities to scale up emergency operations in the conflict zones. The ongoing war in Syria and Iraq, the crisis in the Gaza Strip, and the instability in Somali and some North African countries are some of the most important conflict zones where Islamic charities have been active in giving humanitarian aid (John n.d, p. 1-8).
According to Sara and Marie (2007) the sheer scale of civilian suffering in many of the conflict zones as well as the high level of insecurity and violence present overwhelming challenges to aid organizations such as Islamic charities. These challenges are compounded by the stringent counterterrorism measures, which directly impact on the activities and operations of Islamic charities (Jef 1998; Keith & Michael, 1997). The speed and scale of these conflicts have placed charitable groups under intense pressure, with some forced to operate at record levels across multiple conflicts. Some of the current crises such as the Syrian war involve intense terrorist dimensions and hence charities working in these regions must take into account existing provisions of counterterrorist measures (Columba and Nick 2015, p. 22).
Since 9/11, Islamic charities have raised concerns that counterterrorism measures are impacting their work negatively, which is compounded by the fact that they work in risky areas. Accordingly, the issue of counterterrorism war and its impact on Islamic charities offering humanitarian aid have been debated widely at national, regional and international levels (Barry and Lene, 2009, p. 32). Reports from various studies indicate that counter-terrorism measures introduced by different countries and organizations are affecting charities by making it difficult for them to obtain access to financial services. According to IRIN (2013), access by Islamic charities to financial services has become increasingly limited as state and private donors demand concrete guarantees the charities do not support proscribed terrorist groups involved in the conflicts (Andreas, 2005).
Muslim charities in the USA
Islamic charities based in Western countries such as Britain, Canada and the United States face increasing difficulties in accessing financial services such as cross border money transfer and raising of funds. This is mainly because these countries have strict financial regulatory frameworks to prevent channeling of funds to outlawed activities such as terror financing (Steve, 2000). The challenges are greatest for the Western based Islamic charities that support humanitarian missions in high risky contexts where outlawed terror groups exist such as Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somali and Libya. The same challenge applies for charities working in countries that are under international sanctions such as Iran and Myanmar (Parameswaran 2002). Receiving, transferring, moving or storing money in the formal finical systems has become extremely difficult for some Islamic charities even if their work is legitimate humanitarian assistance (Mahathir 2003, 32). In compliance with anti-terror laws, most banks demand detailed information about donors, partners, beneficiaries and recipients. Where this information is not provided as required, donations made to Islamic charities have been blocked, frozen, delayed or returned to the donors. Increasingly, credit card companies and online payment services have imposed similar restrictions on Islamic charities (Eric, 2002).
For example, the Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) found in 2012 that donations sent by account holders at a Swiss bank had been blocked. IRW was one of the largest Islamic charities in the world with active operations in more than thirty countries. Similarly, Ummah Welfare Trust which operates in the Gaza Strip had its accounts closed by the HSBC Bank. Other Islamic charities have had millions of dollars’ worth of donations blocked and had to return the donations to donors (Douglas, 2002b). For some charities, they have found difficulties in attempts to transfer funds to humanitarian missions in conflict zones. Moreover, salaries transferred to the bank accounts of humanitarian workers have also been blocked or delayed (Jude 2010). Whilst many Islamic charities feel that they are impacted most by counterterrorism measures, other faith based and secular charities operating in conflict zones have reported similar difficulties in accessing financial services. According to theInternational Committee of the Red Cross (2011) delays to or withdrawal of financial services for charities operating in conflict zones is not just an administrative issue. Rather, it can have major implications for the operations of aid partners (Douglas, 2002b).
Impact of counterterrorism measures
Another impact of the counter terror measures is in terms of reputational threats, which translate into immense implications for the operations of charitable groups. Many Islamic charities have reported incidents of abuse of charities by organizations and individuals engaged in terrorist activities (Douglas, 2002a). In most cases, terror groups involve themselves in charitable activities so as to disguise their true mission and facilitate transfer of funds and resources undetected. Such incidents have been found to cause reputational damage for legitimate Islamic charities involved in the provision of humanitarian aid in conflict zones. History Commons (n.d.) reports that state actors and other stakeholders such as the media have a tendency to overstate the likelihood or prevalence of such abuses and this is having major implications for the charity work (The Graduate Institute of International Studies, 2005; Suria 2010, p. 12-14).
With regard to fraudulent Islamic charities that hide behind the humanitarian sector to perpetrate terrorism, there has been a series of high level investigations into abuse of legitimate NGOs working in conflict zones. These investigations are examining issues related to the end use of charitable funds, and the possibility of misconduct or mismanagement on the behalf of the trustees of charity groups (Jonatha & Trifin, 2002, p. 87). Owing to the high likelihood of some Islamic charities collaborating with terrorist groups, investigations are necessary to ensure that all charities operating in conflict areas are fully registered and have the required governance systems in place to guard against abuse (The Charity Commission2010).
Besides the rising cases of reputation damage by fraudulent charitable groups, concerns have been raised regarding the level of risks that these groups present to genuine groups. As Keatinge (2014, p. 34) explains, smaller charitable organizations are being diverted unknowingly or knowingly to extremist groups. Such incidents have caused donors to lose confidence in the charity groups they support. So much is this an important issue that in some cases, charitable groups engaged in genuine businesses are denied an opportunity to benefit from donor funding. Even if terror abuse is rare, when it happen it causes a lot of damage to the donor trust in the charities (Jeffrey 2010, p. 32).
There are also concerns that statements and utterances made by the media and government agencies regarding the operations of terrorist groups would lend weight to the crackdown on legitimate Islamic charities involved in relief services. Thus, due to the intensity of the war on terror, majority of Islamic charities have been rendered vulnerable to unfounded allegations of links to terror groups (Robert 2007, p. 42). Due to such vulnerabilities, the affected charities are not able to operate effectively in conflict zones. Unfounded claims about links to terrorist can significantly damage a humanitarian organization’s reputation and by extension undermine its ability to source finance and engage partners for ongoing relationships. Ultimately, reputation damage has caused some charity groups to withdraw from their core mission or scale down the level of support offered (Kroessin, 2011).
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